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The Correct use of Pronouns

A pronoun, expressed very simply, is a word which stands in place of a noun in a sentence. For example, you would be very unlikely to write the following:

John went to the shops and then John went home.

You would be much more likely to write:

John went to the shops and then he went home.

Hence, without realising it, you have been using a pronoun correctly. Some forms of grammar do come quite naturally but that does not mean to say that you can rely on natural ability to use pronouns correctly all the time.

The most common error when using pronouns, especially in essays, is simply to make too much use of them without first establishing the noun they are replacing. For example, most of us would find the following sentence confusing:

She was happy to help her until she became unwell.

Since we do not have any idea to whom 'she' or 'her' refers in each case, the sentence makes no sense. We do not know whether the 'happy helper' or the person receiving the help became 'unwell', nor do we know whether the person helping rather unkindly withdrew their assistance when the invalid became so! Bearing in mind, then, that the essence of good grammar is clarity, it is obvious that this needs rewriting. This kind of confusion often occurs in essays when the writer includes the ideas of another with their own, making too frequent use of the pronoun.

There are, of course, a great many pronouns in common usage but some of the most frequently used are: he, she, it, they, them, we and those. In addition, there are possessive pronouns, including: his, her, our, your, their and its.

Remember that the pronoun is a very useful grammatical aid but it must be used carefully so that confusion does not arise. This is especially important when writing an essay as overuse of pronouns can cause your argument to lack clarity.

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